Welcome to the Complete Safe Buying Guide.
My name is Andy Youtz and I am a Certified Journeyman Safecracker and a Certified Registered Locksmith. I spend my days selling, cracking, repairing, servicing and installing safes. I have put together the most complete safe buying guide you will find to assist you in your purchase of a safe. This will ensure you purchase a safe that is suitable for your needs.
Purchasing a safe can be more difficult than most people think. We are hoping that his problem is solved with our safe buying guide. There are many factors that must be considered when deciding which safe is right for you. I have seen a huge increase in the number of fire safes from Wal-Mart, Staples, Target and Office Max in the past few years. Most safes you can purchase from these retailers are fire safes that offer very little if any protection from a burglar. It seems that people don't know how much at risk they are placing their valuables.
Safe Buying Guide - A Story
Here is a story dealing with one of these fire safes.
I received a safe call to a residential location in downtown Harrisburg. When I arrived I found my customer had misplaced the combination to his safe. He wanted to retrieve the contents of the safe without damaging it if possible. When I was taken to the safe I found that he had a small Sentry fire safe. The type of safe my customer had was a basic fire safe with 1 hour of fire protection and a basic combination lock. This Sentry fire safe was great for fire protection, but offered little or no security.
The first thing I did was ask him if he knew any numbers to the combination, he said "no". I began a technique called manipulation which is similar to what you would see on TV when people dial the safe open with a stethoscope. After about 5 minutes, the final number of the combination was found and decoded without damaging the safe. I proceeded to turn the handle, but left the door in the closed position so the customer could open the door. Leaving the safe door closed also helps my customers feel their contents are secure.
While writing the bill my customer emptied his safe out in front of me. He pulled out 4 shoeboxes full of cash totaling what he said was $73,000 cash. He proceeded to tell me that he won it playing the lottery. This wasn’t the first time I have seen that much money in a safe and in fact I have seen much more. The thing that blew my mind is that my customer had placed $73,000 within a fire safe that could be pried open in less than 5 minutes with a crow bar or the whole safe could have been simply thrown in the back of a car and driven away.
I suggested to him that he needed to put his cash in the bank. He responded that he does not trust banks and likes to keep his valuables close to home. I explained that money could be stolen with simple hand tools in a very short amount of time and because the safe was not bolted to a floor, it could be simply carried away. He was under the assumption that a safe will provide the security he needed as long as his contents could fit inside. This is simply not true.
In the end, I convinced him to upgrade to a much more secure safe that was made to secure contents of that value. He also had me bolt the safe to a concrete floor to prevent it from being easily carried away. In addition to the safe I also referred him to a local alarm company to help ensure his cash would remain safe. Given enough time in one location, a burglar with tools can open nearly any safe. An alarm system will cut the amount of time a customer has to open the safe before the police show up.
Although this is an extreme situation, it is very common that items of value are placed within safes that are not made to secure items of such value. For this reason, I created the safe buying guide for those interested in buying a safe.
Safe Buying Guide - Safe Type
Safe come in many different types and each safe can have a different function. Below I will go over some of the more popular safe types and what they are best suited for.
Fire safes are used to protect contents from a standard fire for a stated period and temperature. A standard fire safe will protect paperwork and other items that burn or melt at a high temperature. There are items that will likely be damaged in a standard fire safe. Plastics and media such as DVDs, tapes and CD's will melt and become useless if put through a fire in a standard fire safe. If you plan to store this type of item you will be better served with a data/media safe which we explain better later in the safe buying guide. Fire safes generally provide very little burglar protection and can be opened easily with hand tools. Fire safe generally provide 1 hour of fire protection, but there are also 2 hour models available. Fire safes are usually made from a thin metal shell filled with fireproofing material.
Steel Security Safes
Burglar and steel security safes are made of steel and usually offer no fire protection. Items placed inside including cash will burn in a fire and will not be recovered. The steel of these safes heat up in a fire and would act as an oven cooking everything inside. Safes of this type vary from unsecure to some that can withstand a common burglar attack. Professional thieves or a burglar with sophisticated equipment may be able to open a burglar or steel security safe given enough time with the safe. When items of a high monetary value must be secured, a High security TL-15 or TL-30 model should be used.
Fire & Burglar Safes
Fire & Burglar safes combine the benefits of a fire safe with the security of a burglar or steel security safe. In most cases, this is the best option for a standard home or business to keep some valuables and important paperwork safe. These safes are usually made with steel inner and outer shells filled with a composite fire & security material. Some of these safes utilize fireboard on the inside to provide the fire protection.
Data & Media Safe
Data & Media safe are used to protect Data and Media from fires. The melting temperature of most CDs, DVDs, tapes, film and other storage is as low as 125 degrees Fahrenheit. These safes are made to keep the inside of the safe below 125 degrees for a period of 1 or 2 hours. Data/Media safes can also be found in a 3 hours model but they are not common.
Drop Safes & Deposit Safes
Drop or depository safes are made to secure cash received during the day by businesses. Most drop or depository safes are not made to protect cash overnight. These safe have a slot, drop door or rotary hopper to place cash into which is then “dropped” into a secure area inside the safe. Drop or deposit safes are generally not fireproof, although at least one fireproof model has been produced in the past.
Gun safes are used for many different purposes. The most common is to protect firearms and ammo from kids, burglars and fire. Gun safes can be fire resistant, but may not be. Most gun safes that don't offer fire protection are referred to as gun cabinets. Gun safes also are commonly converted to all shelves on the inside and used in homes and businesses for a variety purposes. Gun safe come in many different security levels, fire protection and sizes.
Floor Safes are made specifically to be placed below floor level usually encased in concrete. Floor safe may offer some fireproofing being underground, but they are not made to be fireproof. The fireproofing the safe offers is only due to the fact that the safe is encased in concrete and the heat will have a difficult time getting to the contents of the safe. Floor safes are generally very secure and difficult to break into when properly installed. Floor safes also are easily concealed under carpet and other flooring materials. These safes are great to plan into a newly built home.
Wall Safes can be fireproof, but most are not. These safes are placed into a cutout in the wall and usually secured to the studs. Wall safes have the advantage that they are easily hidden behind a picture and can be very difficult for a burglar to locate. A wall safe that does not have a fire label will not offer any fire protection and all burnable contents will be lost in a fire. All fireproof wall safe that I have seen required a very deep wall for installation. A wall with 10 or more inches of depth will likely be needed for fireproof wall safes.
High Security Safes
A high security safe is used to protect items of great value. These safes are commonly used in banks, jewelry stores, pawn shops and other location that need to keep valuables safe. Some high security safes are solid steel and do not offer fire protection. Some are high security fire safes and offer great fire protection and great security. If you plan to protect your valuables with the most security available a high security safe should be your first choice.
Safe Buying Guide - Safe Locks
Safe locks come in many different forms and many different security levels. I group safe locks into 3 categories.
1. Electronic Safe Locks
2. Combination Safe Locks
3. Key Safe Locks
All three of these safe locks can offer the security you need on your safe. All the safe locks have high end models and low end models. Find out more about safe locks at our safe lock page.
Safe Buying Guide - Size
Next you must decide what size safe you need. Most people come to this decision by the amount of space they have to place the safe into and/or by the weight of the safe and whether or not they have the ability to place the safe in the desired location.
Most moving companies, rigging companies, locksmiths and safe companies will be happy to move a safe of almost any weight into your home or business for a fee which varies by location. Over the years I have many people tell me that they wish they had paid the small additional amount for the next larger model. Most people find many more items to place inside their safe after they begin to utilize the safe. A safe can be upgraded to the next size for a very small percentage of the safe price. Most models can be upgraded for between $20 and $100 additional depending on the safe you are looking at.
The below weights and manpower recommendations are just suggestions. Your situation and safe may require more manpower or even a professional. The manpower and equipment required can vary depending on several factors including movers physical ability, equipment used and obstacles that must be overcome to place the safe.
Safe Buying Guide - Moving Your Safe
A safe of 50 lbs or less can be managed by one person with no special equipment.
A safe of 50-100 lbs can be moved easily with one person and a dolly or hand cart or 2 people by hand.
A safe of 100-200 lbs can be moved by 2 people and a dolly or hand cart.
A safe weighing 200-400 would require a heavy duty dolly with straps and 2-3 people to move the safe safely.
A safe with a weight of 400-600 lbs can be moved with 3-4 people and a heavy duty hand cart with straps, you must be careful when moving a safe with a weight of 400-600 lbs.
A safe weighing more than 600 lbs should be left to professionals to move especially if steps are involved. Some safe of these weights come with casters (one way wheels) that if no steps are involved in the move, can be rolled into place without professional help.
Safe Buying Guide - Securing Your Safe
Bolting down your safe is usually recommended, however in some cases is either not necessary or not possible. A Safe of a weight of 700 lbs. or less should be bolted down at all times. There are a few factors that may limit you bolting your safe to the floor. Please note that very few safes have holes in the back to be secured to a wall.
1. Earthquake zones may have large cables running through the cement in the floor which should not be drilled into.
2. Some locations have heated tile or floors which should not be drilled into.
3. Some cement floors have rebar running through the cement that may cause problem and make it difficult to drill through.
4. Safes above 700 lbs. are generally very hard to move and may not need bolted down. These safes may not offer a pre-drilled bolt down hole due to the weight of the safe itself. If no pre-drilled bolt down hole is provided with the safe, it may not require the additional security of being bolted down.
For detailed instructions on bolting down a safe visit our safe installation page.
Safe Buying Guide - Summary
I have seen professional burglars steal (2) 2000 pound safes in the same night. These were exceptional thieves that had the ability to defeat the alarm system, camera system and all 26 locks in the building.
When purchasing a safe you must decide what will work best for you. This safe buying guide hopefully provided you with some information to get started finding the proper safe for your situation. If you find the the safe buying guide does not contain something you think it should, please contact us and we will happily add to the content so it remains the most complete safe buying guide anywhere.
The Safe Buying Guide - Copyright 2010 Harrisburg Safe & Vault, LLC
Safe buying guide - updated September 2010.